Category Archives: Agriculture

EnviroWatch: Ebola, water, species, nukes


Again, we lead with Ebola, first from the Washington Post:

Ebola virus has mutated during course of outbreak

The Ebola virus sweeping through West Africa has mutated repeatedly during the current outbreak, a fact that could hinder diagnosis and treatment of the devastating disease, according to scientists who have genetically sequenced the virus in scores of victims.

The findings, published Thursday in the journal Science, also offer new insights into the origins of the largest and most deadly Ebola outbreak in history, which has killed more than 1,500 people in four countries and shows few signs of slowing. It also provided another reminder of the deep toll the outbreak has taken on health workers and others in the affected areas, as five of the paper’s more than 50 co-authors died from Ebola before publication.

In a collaboration led by scientists at Harvard University and aided by officials at Sierra Leone’s health ministry, researchers sequenced Ebola virus genomes from 78 patients beginning in the early days of the outbreak this spring. Those 99 samples — some patients were tested more than once — suggested that the outbreak began with a single human infection before spreading rapidly, like a spark that grows into a wildfire.

From the Associated Press:

Liberian Ebola survivor praises experimental drug

A Liberian health worker who recovered from Ebola after receiving an experimental drug urged the manufacturer to speed up its production and send it to Africa, while crowds celebrated in the streets Saturday after authorities reopened a slum that had been barricaded for more than a week to try to contain the disease.

Physician’s assistant Kyndy Kobbah was expected to be released from hospital Saturday after she survived Ebola, which has been fatal in more than half the cases sweeping West Africa. Kobbah contracted the disease while working at a government-run hospital north of the capital.

In an interview with The Associated Press before her release, she said when she informed her family that she had been cured, the home exploded with joy “and the house is on fire right now” with celebration.

CBC News covers a non-case in Canada:

Ebola tests negative for Gatineau girl who remains in isolation

  • Girl who was in Sierra Leone with family returned to Canada with flu-like symptoms

Tests on a young girl from Gatineau, Que., have come back negative for the Ebola virus after she was feeling ill upon returning from Sierra Leone, one of the west African countries hard hit by this year’s Ebola outbreak.

The girl was put in isolation at an undisclosed Ottawa hospital after her family took her to a Gatineau emergency room on Friday with flu-like symptoms after visiting family in Sierra Leone.

The tests, which were done in Winnipeg, came back negative on Saturday afternoon. The girl remains in isolation and she is in stable condition, according to health officials in western Quebec.

From Science, a question:

Experimental Ebola drug saves monkeys, but will this translate to humans?

This past Wednesday, at a discussion titled “Stopping the Deadly Ebola Outbreak” held at the Scripps Research Institute here, a local TV reporter repeatedly prodded one of the star panelists, Kevin Whaley, the CEO of Mapp Biopharmaceutical of San Diego.

After Whaley explained that he had no idea whether ZMapp, his company’s now famous experimental antibody cocktail used to treat Ebola victims, really worked, the journalist continued to press. “From what you’ve seen in your research—and what your heart says—what do you say?”

The audience of 100 people or so broke into nervous giggles.

“I’m not willing to speculate on that,” Whaley replied.

Same continent, different virus from United Press International:

AIDS progress in South Africa could suffer funding blow

The AIDS epidemic in South Africa has been devastating. Factors like lack of awareness and the indifference of political leaders such as President Thabo Mbeki did not allow any kind of control. However, in the last few years there has been major progress in AIDS treatment and prevention thanks to President George W. Bush’s Pefar program implemented in 2003.

New infections have gone down by a third, mother-to-child transmissions have dropped by 90 percent and life expectancy rose by almost 10 years. Around 2.4 million people are on antiretroviral medication and more healthcare workers are being trained in new facilities.

“We’ve managed a miracle,” said Dr. Salim Abdool Karim, one of the country’s leading AIDS researchers. “Undertaking is not a business you want to go into anymore.”

Due to projected cuts to funding, things could take a turn for the worse. South Africa now pays 83 percent of its own costs for its AIDS health programs and Pepfar funding will probably drop from $350 million to $250 million by 2016. Pepfar workers say the money needs to be used to combat the disease in poorer countries like Cameroon and Burundi.

From Public Radio International, on to the atmosphere:

Rising carbon dioxide levels may reduce the nutritional value of important foods

A study in the journal Nature finds that rising concentrations of carbon dioxide threaten global human nutrition by significantly reducing the levels of nutrients important to human health.

Researchers cultivated 41 different varieties of staple crops on three continents to examine how they might be affected by the expected increase of CO2 in coming decades. The crops included rice, wheat, soybeans, maize, field peas and sorghum — plant groups that are central to human nutrition around the world.

The study’s lead author, Sam Myers, says they found significant reductions in zinc, iron and protein in grain crops like rice and wheat, and similar reductions in zinc and iron, but smaller reductions in protein, in legumes like soybeans and field peas.

The reductions are statistically highly significant and represent a serious threat to public health, Myers says. Roughly two billion people around the world already suffer from zinc and iron deficiencies.

From Arctic News, threats from another global warming gas far more dangerous that carbon dioxide:

Warming waters threaten to trigger methane eruptions from Arctic Ocean seafloor

A new study looks at how, in the 21st century, surface warming slowed as more heat moved deeper into the oceans, specifically the North Atlantic.

Sun-warmed salty water travels north along ocean currents in the Atlantic. When this saltier water reaches the North Atlantic, its greater density causes it to sink. From about 1999, this current began to speed up and draw heat deeper into the ocean.

These huge amounts of heat moving deeper into the Atlantic Ocean are very worrying.

On to water with the Associated Press:

Online list IDs water wells harmed by drilling

Six years into a natural gas boom, Pennsylvania has for the first time released details of 243 cases in which companies prospecting for oil or gas were found by state regulators to have contaminated private drinking water wells.

The Department of Environmental Protection on Thursday posted online links to the documents after the agency conducted a “thorough review” of paper files stored among its regional offices. The Associated Press and other news outlets have filed lawsuits and numerous open-records requests over the last several years seeking records of the DEP’s investigations into gas-drilling complaints.

Pennsylvania’s auditor general said in a report last month that DEP’s system for handling complaints “was woefully inadequate” and that investigators could not even determine whether all complaints were actually entered into a reporting system.

From the Mainichi, victims of a pollution disaster:

32,000 people compensated for Minamata disease, more awaiting recognition

Over 32,000 people have been granted 2.1-million-yen compensation packages under the special relief measure for victims of Minamata disease established in 2009, the Environment Ministry reported on Aug. 29.

According to the ministry, some 65,000 people in Kumamoto, Kagoshima and Niigata prefectures applied for compensation by the end of July 2012 deadline. Of some 48,000 applicants, excluding those who applied to switch from the former relief system, a total of 32,244 — or 67 percent — were granted the lump-sum payment. A total of 19,306 successful applicants were in Kumamoto Prefecture, 11,127 in Kagoshima Prefecture, and 1,811 in Niigata Prefecture.

Meanwhile, 6,013 applicants have been granted only medical expenses, and 9,649 have been denied compensation altogether. The payments will be covered by Chisso Corp. and Showa Denko, which were responsible for the industrial pollution that causes the disease.

From the Chicago Tribune, a small win:

Judge tosses challenge to flame retardant rules

Consumers nationwide are closer to being able to buy furniture made without toxic, ineffective flame retardants after a California judge on Friday threw out a legal challenge from the chemical industry.

Chemtura Corp., one of the world’s largest manufacturers of flame retardants, sued in an attempt to block a new flammability standard that the furniture industry says it can meet without using the chemicals in products sold throughout the United States.

The regulations, scheduled to take effect Jan. 1, will require upholstery fabric to resist smoldering cigarettes, which federal statistics show are by far the leading cause of furniture fires.

Off to Britain and birds on the brink from the Guardian:

Warblers and turtle doves join RSPB list of birds at risk of dying out

  • Bad weather and loss of habitat blamed as more breeding native species are at risk of extinction

Any true love who wants to give their significant other two turtle doves to celebrate the second day of the 12 Days of Christmas may soon be looking for an alternative gift.

In a move that will dismay ornithologists and poets alike, the bird, immortalised in verse by Shakespeare and Wordsworth, could shortly find itself on the near 100-strong list of the rarest birds in the UK as compiled by the RSPB’s rare breeding birds panel – a sign that its numbers are plummeting by such a degree that there are fears it could become extinct in the UK within a decade.

The list compiled by the panel, now in its 40th year, is based on sightings by dedicated bird watchers who provide the society with a wealth of information that is used to track the fortunes of different species over time and is the envy of wildlife organisations around the world.

On to Fukushimapocalypse Now!, first with Kyodo News:

Fukushima nuclear plant chief feared catastrophe for eastern Japan

The chief of the disaster-struck Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant said in testimony before his death that he had feared catastrophic damage to eastern Japan while he was struggling to contain the crisis in March 2011, according to government documents obtained Saturday.

“Our image was a catastrophe for eastern Japan,” Masao Yoshida told a government panel that was examining the nuclear meltdowns at the plant about 220 kilometers northeast of Tokyo, triggered by a powerful earthquake and tsunami on March 11, according to his testimony. “I thought we were really dead.”

On the government’s interpretation that plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. was seeking a “complete withdrawal” from the plant on March 15, Yoshida denied such a view, expressing anger at the office of then Prime Minister Naoto Kan and TEPCO headquarters, which he thought had failed to understand the dire situation his workers were facing on the ground.

From the Japan Times, a challenge:

Fukushima families sue prefecture, government for radiation exposure during meltdown crisis

A group of parents and children who were residing in Fukushima Prefecture when the nuclear disaster unfolded in March 2011 is suing the central and prefectural governments for failing to take sufficient steps to protect children from radiation exposure during the crisis.

The 88 plaintiffs are demanding ¥100,000 each in compensation, according to the lawsuit filed Friday at the Fukushima District Court.

In a written complaint, they said the central and prefectural governments failed to promptly release accurate data on airborne radiation levels after the nuclear crisis, neglecting their duty to prevent residential radiation exposure as much as possible, and exposing children to radiation.

From the Mainichi, austerity meets tragedy:

Nuclear disaster evacuee compensation halved across board: internal document

The governmental Nuclear Damage Claim Dispute Resolution Center, tasked with reaching out-of-court settlements for individual claims filed over the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant meltdowns, has set compensation uniformly at 50 percent, a document obtained by the Mainichi Shimbun has confirmed.

The internal document is being circulated among center staff and used in the processing of individual cases — calling into serious doubt the center’s previous denials that the “50 percent rule” had been an official practice.

The center calculates the total amount of damages for pain and suffering in individual settlement proposals by multiplying a base amount by a percentage figure representing the impact of the nuclear accident upon the particular case at hand.

Jiji Press keeps it local:

Fukushima Governor OKs Polluted Soil Interim Storage

Fukushima Governor Yuhei Sato said Saturday he has decided to allow the planned construction of an interim facility to store soil and other waste polluted with radioactive fallout from the March 2011 reactor meltdowns.

Sato disclosed the decision to reporters after his talks with the mayors of Okuma and Futaba in Fukushima Prefecture, which have been chosen as possible host municipalities for the storage for the waste tainted due to the accident at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s <9501> Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

The construction of the interim facility is expected to help speed up decontamination of polluted areas in the northeastern Japan prefecture and thus the reconstruction of the region, observers said.

The proposed storage is “necessary for the decontamination of Fukushima Prefecture,” Sato told reporters. “It’s a tough decision. But I will tolerate its construction.”

From the Yomiuri Shimbun, a leak:

Yoshida ‘never’ called for ‘total retreat’ at N-plant

Masao Yoshida, manager of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant at the time of the March 2011 crisis, strongly denied that Tokyo Electric Power Co. considered a “full retreat” from the plant four days after the quake, according to interviews conducted with Yoshida in a government investigation of the disaster that were seen by The Yomiuri Shimbun.

However, Yoshida said having plant personnel evacuate to the Fukushima No. 2 nuclear plant on March 15, 2011, was the right decision.

The government is likely to release the interviews to the public in early September.

And for our final item, via RT, going green, remember?:

Marijuana compound may halt Alzheimer’s disease – study

Extremely low levels of THC compound, a chemical found in marijuana, may slow down or halt the progression of Alzheimer’s disease, US neuroscientists have found, thus laying the ground for the development of effective treatment in the future.

In recent research published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, scientists from University of South Florida revealed their findings, that may shed light on controversial therapeutic qualities of marijuana.

As the team found, extremely low doses of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol chemical, also known as THC, reduce the production of amyloid beta protein, as well as prevent it from accumulating in abnormal amounts. What is special about this protein is that it is found in a soluble form in most aging brains. It also marks early evidence for Alzheimer’s disease.

EnviroWatch: Ebola, climate, pest woes, nukes


We open with Ebola, and another alarm from the World Health Organization via the New York Times:

Ebola Could Eventually Afflict Over 20,000, W.H.O. Says

As the tally of deaths from the worst known outbreak of the Ebola virus continued its seemingly inexorable rise, the World Health Organization said on Thursday that the epidemic was still accelerating and could afflict more than 20,000 people — almost seven times the current number of reported cases — before it could be brought under control.

The dire forecast was made as the W.H.O. reported that the number of known cases and fatalities had risen once again. The organization also acknowledged that in areas of intense transmission “the actual number of cases may be two-to-four times higher than that currently reported.”

The outbreak “continues to accelerate,” the organization said.

According to the latest figures released by the W.H.O. on Thursday, the death toll has risen by more than 100, to 1,552 out of 3,069 cases in four West African countries: Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria, which had previously indicated that its outbreak was under control.

And from the World Health Organization itself:

WHO issues roadmap to scale up international response to the Ebola outbreak in west Africa

The aim is to stop ongoing Ebola transmission worldwide within 6–9 months, while rapidly managing the consequences of any further international spread. It also recognizes the need to address, in parallel, the outbreak’s broader socioeconomic impact.

It responds to the urgent need to dramatically scale up the international response. Nearly 40% of the total number of reported cases have occurred within the past three weeks.

The roadmap was informed by comments received from a large number of partners, including health officials in the affected countries, the African Union, development banks, other UN agencies, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), and countries providing direct financial support.

It will serve as a framework for updating detailed operational plans. Priority is being given to needs for treatment and management centres, social mobilization, and safe burials. These plans will be based on site-specific data that are being set out in regular situation reports, which will begin this week.

A parallel alarm, via MercoPress:

Ebola outbreak needs an ‘unprecedented’ response to bring it under control

  • The Ebola outbreak in West Africa is going to get worse before it gets better, according to the top US public health official. Tom Frieden, the director of the Centers for Disease Control, said the epidemic would need an “unprecedented” response to bring it under control.

Mr Frieden met Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to discuss ways to fight the disease.

“The cases are increasing. I wish I did not have to say this, but it is going to get worse before it gets better,” he admitted.

“The world has never seen an outbreak of Ebola like this. Consequently, not only are the numbers large, but we know there are many more cases than has been diagnosed and reported,” he added.

From the Associated Press, a ray of hope:

US to begin safety testing Ebola vaccine next week

  • Federal researchers next week will start testing humans with an experimental vaccine to prevent the deadly Ebola virus.

The National Institutes of Health announced Thursday that it is launching the safety trial on a vaccine developed by the agency’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and GlaxoSmithKline. Beginning Tuesday, it will test 20 healthy adult volunteers to see if the virus is safe and triggers an adequate response in their immune systems.

Even though NIH has been testing other Ebola vaccines in people since 2003, this is a first for this vaccine and its trial has been speeded up because the outbreak in West Africa “is a public health emergency that demands an all-hands-on-deck response,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the NIAID.

This isn’t a treatment for the disease, but a hoped-for preventative measure. Fauci said the vaccine cannot cause Ebola in the volunteers being tested.

A parallel test in Old Blighty, via the London Telegraph:

Ebola vaccine to be tested on British volunteers next month

  • British volunteers will be injected with an experimental vaccine against Ebola in emergency trials to begin next month

Volunteers in Oxford will be given an experimental vaccine against Ebola in fast-tracked emergency clinical trials to begin in September, it has been announced.

The vaccine will use a single Ebola protein and will not infect the subjects with live Ebola virus.

At the same time that trials are beginning at Oxford University, up to 10,000 doses will be made to ensure that it can be more widely used quickly if the trials are successful.

On the ground, with the New York Times:

As Ebola Grips Liberia’s Capital, a Quarantine Sows Social Chaos

The five-month-old outbreak here in West Africa, already worse than all other Ebola epidemics combined, is for the first time spreading uncontrollably in a major city — one in which a third of Liberia’s 4.5 million people are estimated to rub shoulders, often uneasily. Though Ebola reached Monrovia three months after its appearance in the rural north, the city has become, in a few weeks, a major focal point of the epidemic.

The outbreak has overwhelmed the government of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who has won the Nobel Peace Prize and the admiration of leaders around the world. But her management of Liberia has long drawn criticism at home, and now her handling of the Ebola epidemic has presented her with a political crisis that is galvanizing her opposition.

“We suffering! No food, Ma, no eat. We beg you, Ma!” one man yelled at Ms. Johnson Sirleaf as she visited West Point this week, surrounded by concentric circles of heavily armed guards, some linking arms and wearing surgical gloves.

BBC News prepares to quarantine:

Travel ban to Ebola affected countries, UK officials say

The UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office says all travel to Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia should be avoided – unless essential, due to the Ebola outbreak.

British Airways has suspended flights to Sierra Leone and Liberia and other airlines are taking similar measures.

Such flight restrictions may make it increasingly hard for people working in these areas to leave, the FCO warns.

From Reuters, quarantine opposition:

West African states call for end to border closures over Ebola

West African states should re-open their borders and end flight bans put in place to halt the spread of Ebola, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) said on Thursday.

The ECOWAS countries and airlines will make their own decisions on flight bans and borders, but the view of the main regional body, expressed at a meeting of ECOWAS health ministers in Ghana’s capital, is likely to prove influential.

“We must implement containment measures but we must not implement measures that will isolate or ostracise the affected countries,” Ghana President John Mahama, who is also ECOWAS’s current chairman, told the meeting.

And an alert in India via The Hindu:

One released from Ebola surveillance, 229 under watch

One passenger who travelled from Ebola-hit Sierra Leone to Tamil Nadu has now been released from health surveillance, after 30 days of monitoring.

As of Thursday, a total of 229 passengers who have travelled from the four countries where the deadly virus has broken out, are being monitored across the State, said director of public health K. Kolandaisamy. Of these, 227 passengers passed through Chennai airport and two at Madurai.

Among the 229 are 11 students from two city colleges, who had travelled to their home countries recently. However, all of them are in good health and show no signs of the virus, Dr. Kolandaisamy said.

The Associated Press covers the epidemiology:

Scientists dig into Ebola’s deadly DNA for clues

A single funeral caused many.

Stephen Gire and other health researchers on the ground in Africa had some hope that the Ebola outbreak was coming under control or at least plateauing in late May. Then came the funeral of a healer in Guinea. More than a dozen of the mourners contracted the disease there, probably by washing or touching the body, and took it to Sierra Leone, according to a new DNA mapping of the Ebola virus that scientists hope will help them understand what makes this killer tick.

“You had this huge burst after it looked like the outbreak was starting to die down,” Gire said. “It sort of threw a wrench in the response.”

Ebola exploded after that funeral and has now killed at least 1,552 people in West Africa. It’s probably more than that, with 40 percent of the cases in the last three weeks, according to the World Health Organization. WHO officials said Thursday the outbreak continues to accelerate and could reach more than 20,000 cases eventually.

Another genetic pursuit, via the Economic Times:

Ebola virus sequences may aid hunt for treatments

Scientists tracking the spread of Ebola across West Africa on Thursday released 99 sequenced genomes of the hemorrhagic virus, in hopes of accelerating diagnosis and treatment.

In a sign of the urgency and danger at hand, five of the nearly 60 international co-authors who helped collect and analyze the viral samples have died of Ebola, said the report in the journal Science.

“We’ve uncovered more than 300 genetic clues about what sets this outbreak apart from previous outbreaks,” said Stephen Gire, a research scientist in the Sabeti lab at the Broad Institute and Harvard University.

Reuters covers another casualty:

Doctor dies of Ebola in Nigeria’s oil hub Port Harcourt

A doctor in Nigeria’s oil hub of Port Harcourt has died from Ebola after treating a contact of a Liberian-American man who was the first recorded case of the virus in Africa’s most populous country, the Health Ministry said on Thursday.

Health Minister Onyebuchi Chukwu said in a statement that the doctor fell ill after treating a patient who was a contact of Patrick Sawyer, who died from Ebola in Lagos after flying in from Liberia last month.

The death in Port Harcourt brings the number of Ebola fatalities in Nigeria to 6, all of whom were direct or indirect contacts of Sawyer.

From the Guardian, precaution:

CDC staffer who worked with Ebola victim monitored for symptoms

  • The staffer had ‘low-risk’ contact with someone who later tested positive for the virus in Sierra Leone, officials said

A CDC staff member who worked in close proximity to someone infected by the deadly Ebola virus in West Africa has been flown by charter jet back home to Atlanta to monitor potential symptoms, officials said Thursday.

The staffer had “low-risk” contact with someone who later tested positive for the virus in Sierra Leone, said Tom Skinner, a spokesman at the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control.

“The worker is not sick, not showing symptoms, not showing any signs of illness whatsoever,” Skinner said.

Reuters covers economic impact:

Ebola causing huge damage to West Africa economies: development bank

The worst ever Ebola outbreak is causing enormous damage to West African economies as foreign businessmen quit the region, the African Development Bank said, while a leading medical charity branded the international response “entirely inadequate.”

As transport companies suspend services, cutting off the region, governments and economists have warned that the epidemic could crush the fragile economic gains made in Sierra Leone and Liberia following a decade of civil war in the 1990s.

African Development Bank (AfDB) chief Donald Kaberuka said on a visit to Sierra Leone he had seen estimates of a reduction of up to 4 percent in gross domestic product due to Ebola.

“Revenues are down, foreign exchange levels are down, markets are not functioning, airlines are not coming in, projects are being cancelled, business people have left – that is very, very damaging,” he told Reuters late on Tuesday.

Bloomberg covers another:

Country Confusion Keeps Ebola-Fearing Tourists Away From Africa

When Canadian tourist Shauna Magill posted on Facebook that she’d arrived safely in Uganda, a friend warned her to beware of “a thing called Ebola please.”

Another friend responded to that comment with a Google Maps link that showed Uganda’s capital, Kampala, and Nigeria, the closest nation affected by the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, are 4,900 kilometers (3,045 miles) apart by road. That’s about the width of the continental U.S.

Misperceptions about Africa’s geography mean that Magill is becoming an exception among the increasing number of tourists who are canceling trips to the continent as health workers battle to contain the worst Ebola outbreak on record. Airlines have suspended routes to Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, the countries that are the epicenter of the disease. Flight bookings to sub-Saharan Africa may drop as much as 50 percent over the next four months, according to market research company Euromonitor International Plc. That would put the brakes on a tourism industry the World Bank says grew at the fastest pace globally over the past three years.

“Many travelers see Africa as one big country,” Paz Casal, a Spain-based travel and tourism research analyst at Euromonitor, said Aug. 26. “Ebola can damage Africa’s economic revival of recent years, resurfacing the continent’s negative stereotypes as a place of disease, famine and poverty.”

From USA TODAY, a more troublesome impact:

Ebola outbreak could lead to food crisis, U.N. says

The Ebola health crisis threatens to turn into a much broader “food crisis” in some of the world’s most impoverished countries, according to the United Nations’ World Food Program.

The program is scaling up its operations in West Africa to provide food to 1.3 million people in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. The food will go to people being treated for Ebola; their relatives; and those who have been quarantined by their governments, in an effort to halt the spread of Ebola.

“The food chain is threatened at many levels,” the World Food Program said in a statement. Hundreds of families have lost loved ones, many of whom were their family’s breadwinners.

After the jump, another illness spread in Japan, a climate change alarm, dangers for the world’s food crops, a sinking Louisiana coast, a rain forest victory, nuclear news from Japan and the U.S., and a smokin’ hot news for Down Under and Santa Fe. . . Continue reading

California drought update: Wetter, in the desert


But except for a tiny portion of the state’s extreme southeastern part, the state is still very, very dry, and with no change for the better at all in the majority of the state  — including California agricultural heartland — ranked in the worst of the categories, Exceptional Drought.

From the United State Drought Monitor [click on the image to enlarge]:

BLOG Drought

EnviroWatch: Ebola, toxins, water, climate nukes


And a whole lot more, so let’s get right to it, first with Reuters:

Senegalese WHO doctor with Ebola arrives for treatment in Germany

A Senegalese doctor who contracted Ebola while working for the World Health Organisation (WHO)in Sierra Leone arrived in Hamburg on Wednesday for treatment at a tropical medicine unit, becoming Germany’s first patient with the disease.

At a news conference on Wednesday the clinic’s tropical medicine specialist said the man would not be given new experimental drugs such as ZMapp but that his treatment would at first focus on managing his symptoms.

The Senegalese doctor arrived in Germany on a specialist plane and was transferred to the university clinic Hamburg-Eppendorf in a special isolation ambulance, accompanied by a police guard.

CBC News adds more:

Ebola-infected WHO scientist in Sierra Leone goes to Germany, Canadians pulled

  • Public Health Agency of Canada pulls its team of 3 from Sierra Leone as precaution

The World Health Organization announced it has shut down a laboratory in Sierra Leone after a Senegalese health worker was infected with the Ebola virus.

Three Canadians from the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg are among the six workers who have withdrawn to Sierra Leone’s capital, Freetown, Christy Feig, a WHO spokeswoman in West Africa, told CBC News.

Feig said the Canadian government made the call to withdraw its workers in consultation with the WHO.

The WHO has sent in a team to see if this was a routine, straightforward infection or if structural changes need to be made to keep health-care workers safe.

Sky News tracks contagion:

Ebola Nurse ‘May Have Caught Virus From Child’

  • William Pooley, who is being treated in a London hospital, formed a bond with a boy whose mother died from the disease

A British nurse infected with ebola in Sierra Leone might have caught it while playing with a toddler whose mother had died of the deadly disease, a colleague has said.

William Pooley was flown home at the weekend and admitted to an isolation unit at the Royal Free hospital in Hampstead, where he has been given the experimental drug ZMapp.

While working as a volunteer at a clinic in eastern Sierra Leone the 29-year-old developed a bond with a baby boy named Sellu Borbor, according to his supervisor Finda Josephine Sellu.

As does Uganda’s own Daily Monitor:

Man steals phone from Ebola patient, gets infected

Security and medical officials in Kibaale District have registered a case in which a man allegedly went in an isolation ward at Kagadi Hospital and stole a cellular phone from one of the Ebola patients.

The 40-year-old resident of Kyakabugahya LCI in Kagadi Town Council travelled about three kilometers to the hospital to apparently obtain a phone estimated to be valued at Shs60,000 more than two weeks ago.

The suspect allegedly broke into the isolation ward on the night of Tuesday August 14, undetected by hospital guards. The patient, who has since succumbed to the deadly hemorrhagic fever, then reported the theft to the hospital security that then embarked on tracing the alleged thief.

Police detectives began tracking him after he apparently began communicating to his friends using the phone. But as police zeroed in on him, he developed symptoms similar to those of Ebola and sought medication at the hospital.

From the Guardian, another casualty:

Ebola claims life of third doctor in Sierra Leone

  • Dr Sahr Rogers was working in Kenema when he contracted the virus, raising fresh concerns over the country’s ability to fight it

A third top Ebola doctor has died in Sierra Leone, a government official in the west African nation has confirmed. The news came as another scientist, who also contracted the disease there, began treatment in Germany on Wednesday.

Health workers are trying to work out how the scientist, whose identity and condition are being withheld for privacy reasons, contracted Ebola before his overnight evacuation to a Hamburg hospital, it has been reported.

“The international surge of health workers is extremely important and if something happens, if health workers get infected and it scares off other international health workers from coming, we will be in dire straits,” said World Health Organisation spokesman Christy Feig.

Next, a video report from Agence France-Presse:

Liberian medical crew collects suspected Ebola victims

Program notes:

Ambulance workers in the Liberian capital don protective clothing to pick up people suspected of being infected with Ebola.

BBC News announces a shutdown:

Ebola outbreak: Nigeria closes all schools until October

All schools in Nigeria have been ordered to remain shut until 13 October as part of measures to prevent the spread of the deadly Ebola virus.

The new academic year was due to start on Monday.

But the education minister ordered the closures to allow staff to be trained on how to handle suspected Ebola cases.

Reuters covers economic costs:

Ebola travel bans threaten Ivory Coast cocoa crop forecasts

International cocoa exporters in Ivory Coast are restricting staff movements due to the worsening Ebola outbreak on the top grower’s western borders, risking leaving traders and exporters without accurate output forecasts for the upcoming season.

Ivory Coast produced nearly 1.45 million tonnes of cocoa last season, according to International Cocoa Organization estimates, almost 37 percent of world supply. Crop forecasts by experts who visit farms to count pods are closely watched by the market ahead of the main harvest that starts in October.

Traders said there are also concerns there could be an exodus of farmers if the disease spreads to the growing regions in the west of the country.

As does the Guardian:

Ebola epidemic takes toll on business in quarantine zones and across Africa

  • Repercussions have radiated from far-flung villages to financial markets, and from rural farmers to urban dollar boys

When his neighbours began falling ill with Ebola, Sheikh Kallon felt fortunate that he was well enough to continue tending his farm deep in the forested interior of Sierra Leone. Then, one of his drinking buddies died of the disease, and Kallon’s entire family was quarantined for 21 days.

“I asked my workers to keep going to the farm, but they said they don’t want to touch money from my hands in case they get Ebola,” he said.

With his crops rotting in the fields, Kallon now spends his days sitting with his family on their porch surrounded by soldiers enforcing the quarantine. The soldiers hardly need bother: lifelong neighbours are too terrified to approach, and a few miles away an entire community that has been unable to trade altogether has run out of salt.

From People’s Daily, news of absence is not absence of news:

China reports no cases of Ebola

China’s health authorities confirmed on Tuesday that a returnee who was hospitalized as “an observation case of Ebola” has been confirmed not infected.

The National Health and Family Planning Commission told Xinhua the returnee, a translator who arrived in Beijing on Sunday from Libya, developed symptoms of vomiting and fever, and was sent to the hospital as a precaution.

The patient has since been cleared as not infected with Ebola. China currently reports no case of the disease.

From Jiji Press, absent no longer:

Japan Confirms 1st Domestic Dengue Infection since 1945

A Japanese woman under 20 has been infected with dengue fever, the first confirmed domestic infection with the tropical disease since 1945, the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare said Wednesday.

The dengue virus is likely to have been transmitted to the woman from an infected traveler via a mosquito in Japan because she has never traveled overseas. She is in a stable condition in hospital, ministry officials said.

At a news conference, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said the government will identify the route of infection and collect more information on suspicious dengue cases.

From the World Health Organization, a plea:

WHO calls for stronger action on climate-related health risks

Previously unrecognized health benefits could be realized from fast action to reduce climate change and its consequences. For example, changes in energy and transport policies could save millions of lives annually from diseases caused by high levels of air pollution. The right energy and transport policies could also reduce the burden of disease associated with physical inactivity and traffic injury.

Measures to adapt to climate change could also save lives around the world by ensuring that communities are better prepared to deal with the impact of heat, extreme weather, infectious disease and food insecurity.

These are two key messages being discussed at the first-ever global conference on health and climate, which opens today at WHO headquarters in Geneva. The conference brings together over 300 participants, including government ministers, heads of UN agencies, urban leaders, civil society and leading health, climate and sustainable-development experts.

And from the New York Times, the political play:

Obama Pursuing Climate Accord in Lieu of Treaty

The Obama administration is working to forge a sweeping international climate change agreement to compel nations to cut their planet-warming fossil fuel emissions, but without ratification from Congress.

In preparation for this agreement, to be signed at a United Nations summit meeting in 2015 in Paris, the negotiators are meeting with diplomats from other countries to broker a deal to commit some of the world’s largest economies to enact laws to reduce their carbon pollution. But under the Constitution, a president may enter into a legally binding treaty only if it is approved by a two-thirds majority of the Senate.

To sidestep that requirement, President Obama’s climate negotiators are devising what they call a “politically binding” deal that would “name and shame” countries into cutting their emissions. The deal is likely to face strong objections from Republicans on Capitol Hill and from poor countries around the world, but negotiators say it may be the only realistic path.

Moving on to water woes with the Los Angeles Times:

Central California residents rely on bottled water as wells run dry

Extreme drought conditions have become so harsh for the Central Valley community of East Porterville, many of its residents dependent on their own wells have run out of water.

Roughly 300 homes have received a three-week supply of bottled water after Tulare County officials discovered their wells had gone dry.

In all, county officials distributed 15,552 1-gallon bottles of water, and have been filling a 2,500-gallon tank with nonpotable water so residents can flush toilets and bathe.

On a comparatively lighter note, this from Jim Morin, editorial cartoonist for the Miami Herald:

BLOG Envirotoon

A call for clearing the air from Newswise:

Trash Burning Worldwide Significantly Worsens Air Pollution

Unregulated trash burning around the globe is pumping far more pollution into the atmosphere than shown by official records. A new study led by the National Center for Atmospheric Research estimates that more than 40 percent of the world’s garbage is burned in such fires, emitting gases and particles that can substantially affect human health and climate change.

The new study provides the first rough estimates, on a country-by-country basis, of pollutants such as particulates, carbon monoxide, and mercury that are emitted by the fires. Such pollutants have been linked to serious medical issues.

The researchers also estimated emissions of carbon dioxide, the most common greenhouse gas produced by human activity.

Unlike emissions from commercial incinerators, the emissions from burning trash in open fires often go unreported to environmental agencies and are left out of many national inventories of air pollution. For that reason, they are not incorporated into policy making.

After the jump, a Reefer Madness recantation Down Under, Japanese whaling intransigence, [including dumps, price tags, and dislocation numbers], an American nuclear green light, offshore drilling anxieties in California and Spain, an Aussie coal mining investment review, water-splitting, and Superfund gentrification. . . Continue reading

EnviroWatch: Ebola, water, toxins & nukes


Today’s compendium of headlines about the relationship between Homo sapiens and Planet Earth opens, as usual these days, with the latest of the Ebola front, first with a three-alarm screamer from News Corp Australia:

Peter Piot says ‘perfect storm’ has allowed Ebola to spread in West Africa

PETER Piot, the Belgian scientist who co-discovered the Ebola virus in 1976, on Tuesday said a “perfect storm” in West Africa had given the disease a chance to spread unchecked.

“We have never seen an (Ebola) epidemic on this scale,” Piot was quoted by the French daily paper Liberation as saying. “In the last six months, we have been witnessing what can be described as a ‘perfect storm’ — everything is there for it to snowball,” he said.

The epidemic “is exploding in countries where health services are not functioning, ravaged by decades of civil war.”

The Associated Press raises another alarm:

Ebola has ‘upper hand,’ says US official

The Ebola virus may have the “upper hand” in an outbreak that has killed more than 1,400 people in West Africa but experts can stop the virus’ spread, a top American health official said at the start of his visit to the hardest-hit countries.

Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, was in Liberia on Tuesday, and later plans to stop in Sierra Leone and Guinea. Nigeria also has recorded cases, but officials there have expressed optimism that its spread can be controlled.

“Lots of hard work is happening, lots of good things are happening,” Frieden told a meeting attended by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf on Monday. “But the virus still has the upper hand.”

Nikkei Asian Review covers economic impacts:

Ebola crisis starting to affect economies across Africa

The worst-ever Ebola outbreak is hurting not just the countries in West Africa where the disease has been found, but the entire continent.

Neighboring countries have banned their citizens from traveling to the Ebola-stricken countries. Some international airlines have suspended some flights. And many countries on other continents have become wary about any travel to Africa, even if it is to countries far away from those with outbreaks.

All this could hurt future business investment in the continent, as disease experts say it will take considerable time to bring an end to the current Ebola outbreak.

Reuters covers the aid front:

WHO says sending supplies for Ebola outbreak in Congo

The World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Monday it has sent protective equipment for medical staff to Democratic Republic of Congo, where authorities have confirmed two cases of Ebola in a remote area.

“The ministry of health has declared an outbreak and we are treating it as such,” WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic said in Geneva in response to a query.

The current Ebola epidemic, which has killed at least 1,427 people, has focused on Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone with several cases also in Nigeria.

And from Quartz, compounding tragedy:

African survivors of Ebola have to deal with stigma, too

West Africa is still reeling from the worst-ever Ebola epidemic: at least 2,615 people have contracted the virus, and 1,427 have died from it. And while the Westerners who are being repatriated and treated at home are saluted as heroes, many African survivors are met with skepticism and face stigma in their own communities.

Displaying reactions that recall the AIDS epidemics, people are afraid of touching Ebola survivors. As Liberian doctor Melvin Korkor—who contracted Ebola while tending to patients and subsequently recovered from it—says that on his return on Cuttington University campus, where he teaches, he was only greeted from a distance. FrontPage Africa reports that students were afraid he may still be contagious:

“We want to hug our doctor, but fear we would come in contact with the virus [...] I will greet him from a distance.”

“I am happy doctor Korkor has returned, but I am totally not convinced he is Ebola-free. I will shake his hands after 21 days.”

Next, an African Ebola  video report from Down Under, with SBS Dateline via Journeyman Pictures:

Ebola Outbreak Becomes International Health Emergency

Program notes:

Ebola’s Epicentre: As the DRC becomes the latest country to be hit by Ebola, the situation at the outbreak’s epicentre in Sierra Leone is increasingly desperate.

The Ebola outbreak is claiming around a hundred victims a week and spreading fast. With the death toll rising daily, we head to the heart of the crisis to reveal the human tragedy behind the headlines.

“I’m doing the right thing, but people are ungrateful for my efforts. People are afraid of me”, says a ‘dead body worker’. He is one of many locals helping foreign NGOs like Medecins Sans Frontieres, the Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders to tackle the ebola epidemic. Yet it is a scramble to contain and treat the virus in makeshift facilities and as they desperately try to get control of this killer disease, locals remain suspicious. “They were claiming we were taking parts of the corpse to do rituals.” At a government hospital in Kenema a dirty ebola screening tent sits alongside a maternity ward. As chaos reigns, patients are free to wander in and out. Over 20 nurses have died at the contaminated hospital; one doctor warns, “don’t touch the walls”. Volunteers are travelling across Sierra Leone’s vastly dispersed population to educate communities in rural areas about the symptoms and prevention methods. “We have these charts which we use to display to the people and tell them what to do and what not to do.” Yet fear and distrust are spreading as fast as the virus. As one villager says simply, “We are totally afraid. This is the main point”.

The London Telegraph offers yet another fortunate European story:

British Ebola sufferer William Pooley given experimental drug ZMapp and sitting up in bed

  • William Pooley being given the same drug that was credited with saving the lives of two American missionaries

The British Ebola sufferer William Pooley is being given the experimental drug ZMapp and is sitting up, talking and reading in his hospital bed, his doctors have revealed.

Mr Pooley, 29, is being given the same drug that was credited with saving the lives of two American missionaries earlier this month and was described today as a “resilient and remarkable young man”.

It had been thought that supplies of ZMapp had run out, but doctors at the Royal Free Hospital managed to get hold of some from abroad and Mr Pooley was given the first dose on Monday. Further doses are expected to be given to him “in due course”.

From TheLocal.it, ditto:

Italian woman cleared of Ebola in Turkey

An Italian woman who was hospitalized in Turkey last week does not have the deadly Ebola virus and will return home soon, Italian media has reported.

The Italian woman became ill on a flight to Turkey’s Istanbul Ataturk Airport on Friday and was taken to hospital for tests.

She has now been cleared of the Ebola virus, which as of Friday had killed an estimated 1,427 people in West Africa. The Italian woman has also been cleared of malaria, Tgcom24 said.

While The Hill covers the American political front:

Pryor cites Ebola scare to attack Cotton

A new ad from Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) cites the Ebola outbreak in West Africa to hit GOP opponent Rep. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) for cuts to medical and emergency programs.

The 30-second spot opens with news reports of the current outbreak, the worst in the history of the disease. The ad accuses Cotton of voting against preparedness measures that could help prevent the virus from spreading to the U.S.

“Congressman Cotton voted to cut billions from our nation’s medical disaster and emergency programs,” says a narrator. “Instead Cotton voted for tax cuts for billionaires funding his campaign,” adds another voice.

On to another virus and another continent with South China Morning Post:

Number of new HIV cases in Hong Kong set to reach record high for fourth year running

  • Government consultant warns number could pass 600 this year for the first time

The number of new cases of HIV infections in Hong Kong is set to hit a record high for the fourth year running, says a government consultant who predicts this year’s figure could pass 600.

Some 304 new cases were diagnosed in the first half of this year, well up on the 262 new cases reported in the same period last year.

“It is worrying. It is likely that the annual figure will surge past 600, which will be the highest figure in Hong Kong history,” Dr Wong Ka-hing, a Department of Health consultant, said on Tuesday.

The accompanying graphic:

BLOG AIDS

And from the New York Times, back to Africa:

AIDS Progress in South Africa Is in Peril

Though few Americans or even South Africans realize it, the nation owes much of its success to a single United States program, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, or Pepfar, started in 2003 under President George W. Bush. It has poured more than $3 billion into South Africa, largely for training doctors, building clinics and laboratories, and buying drugs.

Now that aid pipeline is drying up as the program shifts its limited budget to poorer countries, so the South African government must find hundreds of millions of dollars, even as its national caseload grows rapidly.

The country has six million infected and 370,000 new infections a year. That is seven times as many new infections as in the United States, which has six times the population. Condom use is dropping, according to a new survey, and teenage girls are becoming infected at alarming rates.

Next up, water woes, first via the Associated Press:

Drought leaves California homes without water

Hundreds of rural San Joaquin Valley residents no longer can get drinking water from their home faucets because California’s extreme drought has dried up their individual wells, government officials and community groups said.

The situation has become so dire that the Tulare County Office of Emergency Services had 12-gallon-per person rations of bottled water delivered on Friday in East Porterville, where at least 182 of the 1,400 households have reported having no or not enough water, according to the Porterville Recorder (http://bit.ly/1rsgwsZ ).

Many people in the unincorporated community about 52 miles north of Bakersfield also have been relying on a county-supplied 5,000-gallon water tank filled with non-potable water for bathing and flushing toilets, The Recorder said.

Motherboard offers a grim prognosis:

There’s a Good Chance the Southwest Will See a 35-Year Megadrought This Century

This probably isn’t what residents of the parched American Southwest want to hear right now, but there’s a good chance that the region is headed for a decades-long megadrought.

As if climatologists’ forecasts for a warming world weren’t dire enough, a new paper published in the American Meteorological Society concludes that current climate models “underestimate the risk of future persistent droughts.”

The study, spearheaded by Cornell’s Toby R. Ault, suggests that there is an 80 percent chance the region will be hit with a decade-long drought by the end of the century, a 20-50 percent chance it will weather a 35 year megadrought, and that the prospect of a severe dry spell afflicting the region for half a century is, I quote, “non-negligible.”

While the Guardian covers water woes in Old Blighty:

Abandoned landfills polluting UK rivers, research finds

  • More than 27 tonnes of ammonium leaches from an Oxford wetland into the River Thames every year, reports the Natural Environment Research Council

Abandoned landfill sites throughout the UK routinely leach polluting chemicals into rivers, say scientists.

At Port Meadow, on the outskirts of Oxford, about 27.5 tonnes of ammonium a year find way from landfill into the River Thames. The researchers say it could be happening at thousands of sites around the UK.

In water, ammonium breaks down into nitrogen. The extra nitrogen can trigger excessive plant growth and decay, damaging water quality and starving fish and other aquatic organisms of the oxygen they need to survive.

And ditto from Down Under with RT:

Danger to food chain? Microplastic contaminates found in Sydney Harbor

Scientists in the first study of its kind have found microplastic contamination at the bottom of Sydney Harbor, which may pose a threat to the food chain, Australian media reported.

The research by the Sydney Institute of Marine Science tested 27 sites across the harbor, with researchers finding up to 60 microplastics per 100 milligrams of sediment. This was a higher volume than expected even in the cleanest and best-flushed reaches.

Microplastics are tiny fragments and threads of plastic, which are less than five millimeters long. Professor Emma Johnston from the Sydney Institute, who leads the study, told ABC Australia microplastics represent the “emergence of a new contamination in our harbors.”

After the jump, a call for old school ag, sacrificing grain for oil, mercury troubles, Mexican mining anxieties, Icelandic eruption, California nuclear opposition, and the latest chapter of Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . . Continue reading

EnviroWatch: Ebola, land, trade, and nukes


We begin with the latest Ebola news, first from the Jakarta Globe:

Last Ebola-Free Region of Liberia Falls to Virus

Every region of Liberia has now been hit by Ebola, officials said Friday, as the World Health Organization warned the fight against the worst-ever outbreak of the killer disease would take months.

After seeing people fall to the deadly virus in area after area, Liberia said two people had succumbed to the virus in Sinoe province, the last Ebola-free bastion in a country that has seen the biggest toll with 624 deaths.

The virus has spread relentlessly through Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, and Nigeria has also been affected despite showing some progress in fighting the epidemic, which has killed 1,427 people since March.

From the Guardian, a British patient:

Ebola outbreak: British national living in Sierra Leone tests positive for virus

  • Overall risk to UK public ‘very low’ says chief medical officer as west African nations impose stringent new measures

A British national living in Sierra Leone has tested positive for the Ebola virus – the first Briton confirmed to have contracted the disease.

The Department of Health said medical experts were assessing the situation “to ensure that appropriate care is delivered”. Consular assistance is being provided.

Professor John Watson, deputy chief medical officer, said: “The overall risk to the public in the UK continues to be very low. Medical experts are currently assessing the situation in Sierra Leone to ensure that appropriate care is provided.

The Associated Press covers a crackdown:

Sierra Leone makes hiding Ebola patients illegal

Sierra Leone voted to pass a new amendment to its health act, imposing possible jail time for anyone caught hiding an Ebola patient, a practice the World Health Organization believes has contributed to a major underestimation of the current outbreak.

The new law, an update to the country’s 1960 Public Health Act, was passed on Friday and imposes prison terms of up to two years for violators, said lawmaker Ansumana Jaiah Kaikai.

The measure was necessary to compel residents to cooperate with government officials, Kaikai said, noting that some residents had resisted steps to combat Ebola including the construction of isolation centers in their communities.

CBC News covers another crackdown:

Ebola outbreak: Ivory Coast closes western borders

  • Filipino peacekeepers leave Liberia due to outbreak

Ivory Coast has closed its land borders with Ebola-affected West African neighbours Guinea and Liberia in an attempt to prevent the world’s deadliest outbreak of the virus from spreading onto its territory, the government announced.

A number of African nations have defied advice from the World Health Organization (WHO) and put in place restrictions on travel to and from the countries where Ebola has appeared, which also include Sierra Leone and Nigeria.

More on the Philippine pullout from Deutsche Welle:

Philippines withdraw UN troops over Ebola concerns

The Philippines will repatriate over 100 UN troops serving in Liberia “as soon as possible.” The decision comes after Liberia confirmed all regions have now been hit by the Ebola virus.

The Philippines defense department confirmed on Saturday that it will pull out more than 100 troops from a UN peace-keeping mission Liberia amid concerns over the Ebola virus. It will also bring home over 300 Filipino UN troops from the Golan Heights amid deteriorating security in the region.

In a statement, the department said the 115-member contingent in Liberia will be “repatriated as soon as possible” due to the increasing health risk from the outbreak of the Ebola virus in West Africa.

“The Philippines prioritizes the safety and security of its troops, but remains committed to the peacekeeping missions of the United Nations,” the statement added.

South China Morning Post covers a return:

Hong Kong Red Cross volunteers return from Ebola-stricken Liberia, free of disease

Two local volunteers who worked to fight Ebola in Liberia arrived back in Hong Kong yesterday disease-free, as lawmakers gathered to discuss measures to prevent the deadly virus from entering the city.

Clinical psychologist Eliza Cheung Yee-lai and Dr May Yeung Pui-shan, both from Hong Kong Red Cross, showed no symptoms when they were stopped by health officers at the airport for preliminary assessments. They were allowed to leave without being quarantined.

“Eliza and I have finished our mission. Our health is good, and we are in good spirits,” said Yeung, a public health expert.

The Guardian names a culprit:

Ebola: research team says migrating fruit bats responsible for outbreak

  • A toddler’s chance encounter with one infected bat in Guinea led to west Africa’s present epidemic

The largest-ever outbreak of Ebola was triggered by a toddler’s chance contact with a single infected bat, a team of international researchers will reveal, after a major investigation of the origins of the deadly disease now ravaging Guinea, Liberia, Ivory Coast and Nigeria.

A group of 17 European and African tropical disease researchers, ecologists and anthropologists spent three weeks talking to people and capturing bats and other animals near the village of Meliandoua in remote eastern Guinea, where the present epidemic appeared in December 2013. They have concluded that the disease was spread by colonies of migratory fruit bats. Their research is expected to be published in a major journal in the next few weeks.

Early studies suggested that a new strain of Ebola had emerged in west Africa but, according to epidemiologist Fabian Leendertz, a disease ecologist at the Robert Koch Institute in Berlin, who led the large team of scientists to Guinea, it is likely the virus in Guinea is closely related to the one known as Zaire ebolavirus, identified more than 10 years ago in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Leendertz said the virus had probably arrived in west Africa via an infected straw-coloured fruit bat. These bats migrate across long distances and are commonly found in giant colonies near cities and in forests.

A coming visit via the Associated Press:

CDC director to visit Ebola outbreak countries

A top U.S. health official plans to travel to West Africa to see firsthand how the Ebola outbreak is unfolding.

Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is scheduled to visit Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea next week.

A CDC spokesman Friday said Frieden wants to meet the African and international health leaders trying to control the outbreak, and to hear what help they need. He also plans to visit hospitals treating Ebola patients.

And from Global Times, preparations:

China raises precaution against Ebola

China’s health authorities have stepped up control measures against Ebola in the past week, in wake of continuous epidemic in West Africa.

The National Health and Family Planning Commission distributed a protocol for diagnosis, treatment and fast response of Ebola cases to 31 provincial health departments on Thursday.

The document elaborates the symptoms of the disease and instructs medical workers how to put possible cases under medical observation, to handle suspected cases, to treat confirmed cases and under what circumstances to release a person under observation.

From CBC News, another environmental alert:

Iceland volcano: Bardarbunga eruption begins

  • Volcanic ash could affect air traffic

Iceland’s Bardarbunga volcano began erupting Saturday under the country’s largest glacier after a week of seismic activity rattled the area with thousands of earthquakes, the country’s Meteorological Office said.

The eruption prompted Iceland to raise its aviation alert level to red — the highest level on a five-point scale — indicating the threat of “significant emission of ash into the atmosphere.”

Seismic data indicates that magma from the volcano is melting ice beneath the Dyngjujokull icecap on the Vatnajokull glacier, Met Office vulcanologist Melissa Pfeffer said.

MintPress News covers another one:

Environmentalists Rally Against New Herbicide For GE Crops

Citing the inevitability of “superweeds” and calling the product a “life preserver” for fatally flawed technology, environmentalists urge the EPA not to register a new Dow AgroSciences herbicide for GE corn and soybeans

Environmentalists warn that an herbicide designed to work with new varieties of genetically engineered (GE) corn and soybeans should not be registered by the Environmental Protection Agency because, like other widely-used herbicides for GE crops, it will gradually promote the emergence of “superweeds” resistant to the new herbicide.

The herbicide at issue is Dow AgroSciences’ Enlist Duo, whose active ingredients are two “old” chemicals: glyphosate (best known by the trade name “Roundup”) and 2,4-D. The herbicide would be applied in fields planted with Enlist Corn and Enlist Soybeans – which Dow has engineered to tolerate the product.

The first commercial applications of 2,4-D date back to the mid-1940s, but the chemical gained notoriety due to its use in a Vietnam War-era defoliant: Agent Orange. Although 2,4-D was not the only herbicide in Agent Orange, the product was contaminated with dioxin — a potent carcinogen — as a byproduct of the production process.

From Deutsche Welle, a video report on the destructive role played by free trade pacts on local agriculture in one Latin American nation:

Business Brief: Columbia’s Struggling Farmers

Program note:

Free trade pacts are supposed to be a win-win situation for the nations who enter in to them.

And from Al Jazeera America, a sovereign victory to the north:

Canada’s First Nations people seek to ‘evict’ energy companies from land

  • Indigenous people of British Columbia are emboldened by a court decision siding with tribe in land rights dispute

The Gitxsan and First Nations peoples across the country have been emboldened by a June Supreme Court of Canada decision they describe as a “game changer.” In that case, the court sided with the Tsilhqot’in First Nation, a band of roughly 3,000 people residing in British Columbia’s interior, in a dispute over commercial logging. The court ruled that because the Tsilhqot’in were found to hold “aboriginal title” over the territory in question, their permission was required before logging could proceed.

“Canada is witnessing something that I call the rise of native empowerment,” said Bill Gallagher, a lawyer and author who specializes in First Nations legal challenges. “The Supreme Court of Canada has declared, verbatim, that the doctrine of terra nullius — that nobody was here when flags were planted by colonizers — that that doctrine does not apply in Canada.”

On to Fukushimapocalypse Now!, first with the Japan Times:

Late Fukushima nuclear plant chief’s testimony may be made public

The government plans to disclose testimony by Fukushima No. 1 chief Masao Yoshida that could shed light on whether he ordered staff at the stricken power plant to stay at their posts during the triple meltdown crisis, sources revealed Friday.

The decision could be made by mid-September, governmental and other sources said, noting Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga might comment on the leaking testimony on Monday.

Yoshida, who died of cancer in July last year, gave testimony to a government panel that was formed to probe the March 2011 disaster. It interviewed Yoshida for more than 20 hours between July and November 2011.

And from the Asahi Shimbun, a compromise:

Fukushima Prefecture to accept intermediate storage facility for radioactive waste

Fukushima Prefecture is set to accept the construction of an interim facility to store radioactive waste from cleanup work due to the nuclear disaster, advancing the stalled process of decontaminating the affected areas.

The prefectural government has decided to shoulder the difference between the appraised value of land in Okuma and Futaba, where the structure will be built, and the price it would have fetched before the 2011 accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

The decision came after landowners insisted that the land should be bought at a fair market value because the current appraisals are much lower than pre-disaster estimates.

For our final item, Big Oil tries to buy a city, via the San Francisco Chronicle:

Chevron pouring money into Richmond election

The biggest political campaign war chest in Richmond doesn’t belong to a candidate, it belongs to a corporation that hopes to steer the city’s November municipal election in its favor.

Chevron, the city’s main employer and taxpayer, is also the biggest spender on political campaigns – it set aside $1.6 million in a political action committee called Moving Forward that supports the oil giant’s favorite City Council and mayoral candidates.

Let me repeat: $1.6 million. For local elections in a city of a little over 106,000 residents.

EnviroWatch: Ebola, water, GMOs, nukes


Today’s headlines from the interface between planet and people begins, again, with the story of the day, first from BBC News:

Ebola crisis: Liberia police fire at Monrovia protests

Police in Liberia’s capital, Monrovia, have fired live rounds and tear gas during protests after a quarantine was imposed to contain the spread of the deadly Ebola virus.

Residents of the capital’s West Point slum area say the barbed wire blockade stops them buying food and working.

Four people are said to have been injured in the clashes.

Liberia has seen the most deaths – 576 – in the world’s worst Ebola outbreak, which has hit West Africa this year.

The Washington Post delivers good news for Westerners who got treatments with experimental drugs unavailable to most of those stricken with the dread disease which kills ninety percent of those afflicted:

Two Americans who contracted Ebola have been released from the hospital

American doctor Kent Brantly and North Carolina missionary Nancy Writebol, both of whom contracted Ebola while treating infected Liberian patients, have been released from an Atlanta hospital. Writebol was discharged from Emory University Hospital on Tuesday and Brantly was released on Thursday.

“Today is a miraculous day,” Brantly said at an Emory news conference. “I am thrilled to be alive, to be well and to be reunited with my family.”

The Texas doctor appeared near death weeks ago after contracting the disease, which has killed 1,350 people in the four African nations affected by the contagion. He was flown back to the United States from Liberia in a special transport plane that included an isolation unit and arrived at Emory on Aug. 2.

Another patient who got the same drug didn’t fare so well, via El País:

Death was to be expected, say doctors who treated ebola-infected priest in Spain

  • The team who looked after Miguel Pajares in Madrid say hardest part was lack of direct contact

The death of Spanish missionary Miguel Pajares from the ebola virus in Madrid was “to be expected” even though doctors fought to save his life “to the very end,” medics who treated him at the capital’s Carlos III Hospital have said.

Speaking to news agency Efe about being the first doctors to treat an ebola patient in Europe, tropical disease specialists Marta Arsuaga and Fernando de la Calle Prieto said that at first they hoped he might pull through despite the virus’s 80 percent mortality rate, since he was being treated in a more advanced health system.

For five days, the team managed to keep 75-year-old Pajares, who had been brought back to Spain after contracting the virus working in a hospital in Liberia, alive. “At that moment we all wanted him to pull through so badly … but it is a very serious virus and the end was to be expected,” said Arsuaga.

And a video report from Deutsche Welle on an African nation on edge:

Ebola fears growing in Nigeria

Program notes:

International health officials have been keeping a close watch on Nigeria since the first cases of Ebola surfaced there a few weeks ago. But intensive government efforts have so far managed to contain the virus to about a dozen cases in Africa’s most populous nation. Still, as DW’s Adrian Kriesch discovered, the mood on the ground is anything but calm.

BBC News closes the borders:

Ebola travel: South Africa bans incomers from W Africa

South Africa says non-citizens arriving from Ebola-affected areas of West Africa will not be allowed into the country.

The health ministry said borders would be closed to all non-citizen travellers from Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

South African nationals will be allowed to re-enter the country when returning from high-risk countries, but will undergo strict screening. All non-essential outgoing travel to the affected countries has been banned.

Deutsche Welle answers a question:

How does Ebola spread?

As more doctors treating Ebola patients contract the disease themselves, it’s clear that better prevention is needed. But given the virus’s resilience and the low Ebola awareness in West Africa, this is no easy task.

Ebola has claimed over 1,000 lives in West Africa so far. Despite great efforts on the part of medical specialists, the World Health Organization and aid organizations, the virus continues to spread.

In order to become infected with the disease, people need to come into direct contact with bodily fluids – such as blood, urine, feces and sweat – that contain the virus, or touch a contaminated object. The virus is very resilient and can survive on various surfaces for a long time. It can be transferred via traces of bodily fluids on surfaces like toilet seats and tabletops.

When the carrier dies, the virus doesn’t die right away. Instead, it lives inside the corpse for up to a week, continuing to pose a danger.

Global Times offers a Southeast Asian reassurance:

No Ebola case in Cambodia: PM

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen said Thursday that the country has not seen any case related to the West Africa-hit Ebola virus disease. His remarks came after rumors across social media in recent days that Ebola was found in Cambodia.

“There is no Ebola presence in Cambodia so far,” the prime minister said during a graduation ceremony of students at Beltei International Institute.

He said the country has taken urgent measures to prevent the deadly Ebola virus by installing body-temperature sensors at airports and border checkpoints.

IRIN News observes:

Ebola horror hastens use of test drugs

Ebola’s devastation in West Africa has catapulted experimental drugs from labs to patients and shaken up vaccine development, which was hitherto patchy as outbreaks of the virus have tended to be spasmodic and geographically limited.

“There is no market for Ebola vaccines,” Marie-Paule Kieny, World Health Organization (WHO) assistant director-general, told IRIN. “Outside of an outbreak, who would want to get vaccinated against Ebola? Nobody. Therefore the market is inexistent more or less. So there was not that much investment into developing that. Nevertheless, they were carrying forward.”

From Mother Jones, capitalizing on fear and xenophobia:

Another GOP Candidate Says Migrant Kids Might Have Ebola. (They Don’t.)

Arizona Speaker of the House Andy Tobin is the latest Republican politician to suggest migrants from Central America might bring the Ebola virus with them to the United States. Tobin, who is seeking the GOP nomination for the state’s 1st Congressional District in Tuesday’s primary, made the connection in an interview published in the Tucson Weekly on Thursday.

Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.) started the GOP Ebola fearmongering trend last month when he wrote a letter to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stating that “[r]eports of illegal immigrants carrying deadly diseases such as swine flu, dengue fever, Ebola virus and tuberculosis are particularly concerning.”  In August, Reps. Todd Rokita (R-Ind.) and Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) leveled the same charge.

Although allegations of disease-ridden migrants are common throughout history, vaccination rates in Central America are higher than in Texas. And Ebola, which is difficult to contract, is not found in Central America.

On to water woes, starting with this from the Los Angeles Times:

Western drought causes Earth’s surface to rise as groundwater drops

A year and a half of drought has depleted 63 trillion gallons of water across the Western United States, according to a new study that documents how the parched conditions are altering the landscape.

The loss of groundwater, as well as surface water such as reservoirs, has been so extreme that it lifted the West an average of one-sixth of an inch since 2013, according to researchers from UC San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography and the U.S. Geological Survey.

The situation is even worse underneath the snow-starved mountains of California, where the Earth rose up three-fifths of an inch. Groundwater is very heavy, and its weight depresses the Earth’s upper crust. Remove the weight, and the crust springs upward.

And the accompanying graphic:
BLOG Water
More from Quartz:

The loss over the last 11 years is about 240 gigatons of water, as of March 2014—the equivalent of the annual mass loss from the Greenland ice sheet. California residents have resorted to painting their lawns green to save water. And the state’s agricultural sector, including a booming marijuana business, has been tough on the water supply—to say nothing of how fast the water is being consumed by regular citizens.

There’s some good news when it comes to earthquake risk, though. Some experts have expressed concern that drought could create more stress on the San Andreas fault that runs through California; but today’s study found that stress changes from the water were “unlikely to affect” earthquake risk.

From the Latin American Herald Tribune, pressure to exact a price for water pollution:

Mexican Congress Urges Government to Cancel Mine Concession after Toxic Spill

Mexico’s Congress has urged the federal government to cancel Grupo Mexico’s concession for a large copper mine in the northwestern state of Sonora after acid spilled into two rivers.

The Permanent Committee, which assumes legislative duties when Congress is in recess, called for a halt to operations at the Cananea mine while authorities assess the damage caused by the Aug. 6 spill of 40,000 cubic meters (10.5 million gallons) of copper sulfate acid solution into the Sonora and Bacanuchi rivers.

The Mexico City-based mining giant’s negligence in storing chemical residues caused the spill, the committee said.

Public Radio International covers an aquatic cri de couer:

Coral reefs can communicate with fish, and many of them are crying for help

Georgia Tech ecologist Mark Hay calls it part of “the coral reef death spiral.”

“Everything that’s going on,” Hay says, “global warming, overfishing, pollution — means there’s less coral, more algae and more contact between corals and algae.”

And Hay says that contact can start to degrade a reef incredibly quickly — within just two days. “Those corals … start bleaching and tissues start dying where they’re in contact,” he says. “And then on a couple of those corals, that bleaching just spreads [to] the rest of the coral.”

From water to the air with The Verge:

NASA finds unexpectedly high levels of banned ozone-depleting chemical

It’s been decades since the world realized the danger that chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs, formerly found in products like aerosol sprays, refrigerants, and solvents) posed to the Earth’s ozone layer. But despite the fact that the CFC known as carbon tetrachloride (CCl4) was banned way back in 1987, a new study from NASA shows a troubling amount of the compound in our atmosphere — something that presents a continued threat to the hole in the ozone layer over Antarctica.

“We are not supposed to be seeing this at all,” said NASA’s Qing Liang, lead author of the study. “It is now apparent there are either unidentified industrial leakages, large emissions from contaminated sites, or unknown CCl4 sources.” Between 2007 and 2012, studies showed now new CCl4 emissions — but this new study shows that worldwide emissions of CCl4 were still at 30 percent of their peak levels back before ban went into effect. The study also showed that concentrations of the compound were declining by only one percent per year during that 2007 to 2012 time period, not by the four percent rate originally estimated.

Beyond the unexplained sources of CCl4, the compound is also staying in the atmosphere 40 percent longer than earlier studies showed. “Is there a physical CCl4 loss process we don’t understand, or are there emission sources that go unreported or are not identified?” Liang asked. But unfortunately, the team behind the study isn’t ready to release any theories about what’s causing the higher-than-expected concentration of ozone-depleting chemicals.

Another atmospheric threat, via the Independent:

Iceland volcano: Fears of eruption and ash cloud increase as Met Office registers 1,000 small earthquakes in region

Fears of another volcanic eruption in Iceland continued today with reports that weather officials have detected 1,000 small quakes in the Barðarbunga volcano, following an unusually strong earthquake on Monday.

Hundreds of people have been evacuated from the highlands north of the Vatnajokull glacier by Iceland’s civil protection department after the volcano began belching huge plumes of smoke.

Iceland’s Met Office released an updated statement this morning, saying: “seismic activity in Bárðarbunga and vicinity is still great. As yesterday, the main activity stems from the intrusive event under Dyngjujökull.”

From Global Times, another environment under siege:

Disappearing forests

Mountainous forests in East China’s Zhejiang Province are being consumed due to the need to develop more farmland.

In fact, many forests have already been turned into fields. Trees were chopped down and harvested for wood, leaving the land to be plowed and turned into terraced fields.

One of the key factors is the low availability of land. As a leading province in terms of economic development and urbanization, Zhejiang is in constant need of land for industrial and construction use. A lot of farmland, as a result, has been taken over.

On the other hand, because China has a stipulated “red line” base minimum of 1.8 billion mu (120 million hectares) of fields, the removal of any fields needs to be matched with the addition of the same area of land. This has meant that local governments in Zhejiang have turned their sights toward the mountains.

Inter Press Service covers yet another GMO push:

US, Brazil Nearing Approval of Genetically Engineered Trees

  • Governments weighing approval of permit for genetically engineered eucalyptus trees, which critics say would increase deforestation

The U.S. and Brazilian governments are moving into the final stages of weighing approval for the commercialisation of genetically engineered eucalyptus trees, moves that would mark the first such permits anywhere in the world.

The Brazilian government is slated to start taking public comments on such a proposal during the first week of September. Similarly, U.S. regulators have been working on an environmental impact assessment since early last year, a highly anticipated draft of which is expected to be released any day.

Despite industry claims to the contrary, critics warn that the use of genetically engineered (GE) trees would increase deforestation. The approvals could also spark off a new era of such products, which wouldn’t be confined solely to these countries.

While RT charts a major reversal:

End of the line: GMO production in China halted

In a surprise U-turn, China’s Ministry of Agriculture has decided not to continue with a program which developed genetically-modified rice and corn. Some environmentalists say public concerns about GM crops played a key role in the decision.

On August 17, when these permits were up for renewal, the Ministry of Agriculture decided not to extend them. In 2009, the ministry’s Biosafety Committee issued approval certificates to develop the two crops, rice and corn.

Developed by the Huazhong Agricultural University, near Wuhan, it was hoped that the GMO strains would help to reduce pesticide use by 80 percent, while raising yields by as much as 8 percent, said Huang Jikun, the chief scientist with the Chinese Academy of Sciences, told Reuters in 2009. It is illegal to sell genetically-modified rice on the open market in China.

On to Fukushimapocalypse Now!, first with the Asahi Shimbun:

Local leaders seek disclosure of testimony by former nuclear plant chief

Leaders of local governments near the stricken Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant want the testimony given by the plant manager months after the accident to be disclosed.

The Asahi Shimbun ascertained that eight local leaders want full disclosure after seeking the views of the Fukushima governor and heads of 13 cities, towns and villages located within 20 kilometers of the plant and areas outside the 20-km radius where radiation levels were more than 20 millisieverts per year.

Masao Yoshida was plant chief when the March 11, 2011, Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami set off the nuclear accident.

The Asahi Shimbun again, with more pressure:

TEPCO shareholders go to court for disclosure of Yoshida testimony on nuclear disaster

Shareholders of Tokyo Electric Power Co. filed a lawsuit Aug. 20 for disclosure of testimony about the 2011 nuclear disaster given by the late manager of the stricken Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

“(The government) should make public investigative records of 772 people, including Masao Yoshida (then plant manager), to enable a re-examination of what was wrong and what was correct,” said Yui Kimura, who heads the plaintiffs’ group.

The 10 TEPCO shareholders and others are calling on the Cabinet Secretariat to disclose records of the government investigation panel’s interviews with 772 people involved in the nuclear crisis triggered by the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami.

Jiji Press advances oversight:

Japan N-Plant Decommissioning Aid Body Starts Operations

Japan’s Nuclear Damage Compensation and Decommissioning Facilitation Corp., which will supervise work to decommission crippled nuclear reactors and control radioactive water at the Fukushima No. 1 plant, began operations on Thursday.

The Japanese government wants to strengthen its involvement in decommissioning work through the new body. Some 50 experts on decommissioning technologies will be on hand to advise Tokyo Electric Power Co., the operator of the disaster-stricken plant, and develop related technologies.

Takehiko Sugiyama, head of the new organization, and Hajimu Yamana, the senior official in charge of decommissioning, put up a signboard bearing the name of the organization at the entrance of its head office in Toranomon in Tokyo’s Minato Ward on Thursday.

And foor our final item, via NHK WORLD, preparing for a visit:

Residents plan tour to Fukushima evacuation zone

A group of residents near Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant plans to organize guided tours of their hometown. The aim is to keep alive the memory of the 2011 nuclear accident.

Areas in 7 municipalities around the nuclear plant are part of a designated no-entry evacuation zone due to high radiation levels there. Residents need to acquire permission to enter the area.

A group of residents of Okuma town say they want outsiders to know that the impact of the accident still lingers. Okuma is one of two towns that host the plant.